Specials: Interviews: Dilemma:

Interview with Sergey Shuklin (4reign Studios)

Lately a new game called 'Dilemma' was announced and with it came together the young, Russian developer studio '4reign studios'. The students from the city of Kursk has decided to do a lot. We interviewed elaborately the 20 years old story writer and interpreter Sergey Shuklin (Image: 2.f.l.) and talked with him about the upcoming Cyberpunk-Adventure.

Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. As a matter of form, could you please introduce yourself and your studio?

Sergey: Ok... To introduce myself I should say that I'm a humble student of the Kursk State University, currently studying at the department of foreign languages. I'm twenty and maybe it is too early for me to think about game business etc. and to sound somewhat busy and all official, but as the reality tends to be very enigmatic and at the same time cruel, one should seek for every opportunity to try something new and to find his real place in this world. So for me game development - or let's not call it so official but just say a process of game creation, which fully reflects the creators inner world and thoughts, the possibility to tell the gamers what you think and how you see the world through the game - was that revelation, that completely turned my life upside down. I was very surprised when I found that I wasn't alone in my imaginative dreams for so called happy future and almost a year ago, I met some companions whos beliefs and views were the same as mine. That's how we decided to connect our humble lifes with the sphere of game development. But as it turned out this wasn't as easy as we planed *laugh*
Besides the other thing, which the readers may find interesting is the fact why our company was called "4reign"...

Yes, tell us about it: Why "reign", and why four of them?

Sergey: Yes, all this aspects find it's reflection in the company's title.
Well, originally there were only four of us: Pavel Lerner - the so called religious leader of our group. :) He stood in charge for the whole process of organization of the company and who was also good at programming (by the way he also studies martial arts like Wushu and knows Chinese). Then Andrew Gritsenko, our fellow friend and follower who supplied us with feedback and was also interested in the new perspectives of game creation. Then there was the one whom we call our Digital Mind - Andrew Panov - the real master of game programming, the one who knows almost everything and who produced the most essential feature for our game, called - the game engine. :) And me an interpreter, but my knowledge of English allowed me to study 3D modelling and animation as well as 2D game graphics related programms, and I was also in charge for the script writing.
So from the begining it was such a nasty balanced company: 3 programmers vs 1 artist and script writer. But as time flew, the number of our companions increased gradually, and the balance was restored.
But let us get back to the topic: We needed a title which would surely imply the number 4 and as in English this number is phonetically similar with the morpheme "for". We tried to play with various complex words to form something interesting, which would mean something when read completely, and which wouldn't lose its meaning when read apart.
There were different variants like "4ever", "4most" or "4play". The last was particularly popular, cause it meant "for play", or "four who play" etc. But it turned out that the whole word lexical meaning was (as the dictionary tells): An erotic stimulation *laugh*. So we decided to chose the variant "4reign Studios", which means that we are serious in our ambitions to provide a good game and which also means foreign, cause we are from Russia. That's the story!

Does this mean you feel yourself foreign as a Russian game development studio?

Sergey: Yes, you've got the point. Well it was only an anticipated perspective, which surely wouldn't like to miss.

So to finishing your first project 'Dilemma' is like to make a dream come true?

Sergey: Yes, you may call it that way. Dreams are an inevitable part of reality. When one dreams, he has a goal and potential charge for this goal to fullfill. But it doesn't mean that we are somewhat delirious or simple minded. We take it serious an try to do our job accordingly. When one has no dreams an adresses to the game as a commercial project, the game itself surely looses a part of it's attractivity. So work with dreams makes perfect.

'Dilemma' is going to be a cyberpunk-adventure. Where did you get your inspiration at, during the creation of the plot? Where does the idea for a sci-fi-game comes from?

Sergey: Well, good ideas are everywhere. They are around us and of course such masterpieces shouldn't be missed. :)
But speaking seriously all of us were always interested in different futuristic plots and ideas, and the cyberpunk genre itself. We've got some inspirations from the well known titles like 'Blade Runner', 'Fallout', the sci-fi authors like our Russian Strugatskie, Lukianenko, or Aisek Asimov, Garry Garrisson, etc. Even our deep concern with japanese animation has done it job: Such titles like 'Ghost in the Shell', 'Appleseed', or Masamune Shirow's manga are out of the question. :)
You know some may say that the cyberpunk genre is somewhat narrow and doesn't provide good opportunities for plot revelation. Some people basically do not understand it or do not like the atmosphere, so the auditory may be smaller then for for example any other genre like detective, or fantasy. But it's only one side of the view. In fact cyberpunk includes a highly emotional phylosophical idea which may be presented like a premonition of bad future (like in the films wich warn of the future cinsequences – as for example 'War of the Worlds' or 'Minority Report') or vice versa like the utopic light of hope, showing the promising fruits of technology.
So this genre is rather serious, and IMHO is somewhat more realistic, but there may be deviations. Besides the field with design is vast to play.
Cyberpunk may be divided into three large integral parts, which differ in it's representation: It may be either smooth, ultra modern high tech images... or it may be shown in dark hues of destroyed environement. The third part implies phantasy and fiction - so called "steam punk". My favourite one (such titles like 'Metropolis' and 'Steam Boy' are it's vivid representatives). So having chosen this genre, we provided ourselves with a vast field to create different plots or stories. And if the story would imply all these three aspects mentioned above... I think everyone would find in it something interesting.

Are there any other adventure games your particularly inspired by? As you mentioned Philip K. Dick's 'Blade Runner', which was also transformed into an adventure game sometime ago...

Sergey: As for the game titles, well I don't consider them to be particularly adventures but never the less: 'Deus Ex', 'Syndicate' (played it on 486 back in the past :) ), 'Final Fantasy VII', and many others...

Don't you think, that some of the consumers will be a kind of swamped? Today a major part of the consumers isn't able to think much about that what they comsumes. Aren't you afraid that your idea could be missunderstood from the public in some kind of way?

Sergey: Yes, we are aware of that. Such things happen (frankly speaking such things happen with any serious kind of games like 'Falllout' or 'Baldur's Gate' remember their selling rates against the same 'Diablo' for example). But if we take this problem in this kind of light, we may lead it to absurdity, cause if the only thing what matters is a gameplay then there would be no need for any games except the 'Arcanoid' or 'Tetris'. Our goal is somewhat different: We don't position this game as a purely commercial project, besides we don't want to sacrifice some aspects of the game for the purely trivial capitalisitc matters.
We don't even think that the first project would be a hit or something, but at least as I've told you once, we try to develop a game worth playing. Even if the gamers numbers won't be much. Remember 'Gothic' - a game also special though it didn't had some peculiar features from the start, but there was a spicy thing in it that moved people to play. That's what a real masterpiece means. I doubt that many people understand Da Vinci or Beethoven but it doesn't mean that every one should listen to pop music or watch soap operas. That's how it is. :)

That's sound materialistic. I think many gamers will like that sort of justification. But why did you chose to do a adventure game out of 'Dilemma'?

Sergey: No I should say it sounds idealisitc. :) Well, besides it's the only way to state something worth of value, produced by our company. I doubt that as a starting company it would be a sucess if we would just develop another clone 3D action game in front of the giants of the genre like 'Half-Life' or 'Doom'. Or another Online-RPG vs. 'World of Warcraft'. The adventure game genre also is full of masterpieces like 'Syberia' or 'Still Life', but it is here where the concept of plot and ideas has its word. Besides its technical realisation is more reasonable... so at least we have a hope :)

Could you please give as a small summary what we’re concretely going to experience in 'Dilemma'?

Sergey: Surely...
1.The developed story line featuring treason, mystery and even romantic aspects but without such cliches like saving the world or something. Here you are just a humble part of a greater mechanism of various groups and factions, but as an integral part you are fully capable of influencing it.
2. The contrast of styles of representation and gameplay, within two main game locations: Earth and Mars At least we would try to do so, though without financial aid from the side, we wouldn't guarantee the realisation of both parts at once. In this case it would be reasonable enough to turn our attention to the game location of Earth and to work out different game aspects here (about 100 game screens) and then produce the Mars location as an add-on or second project 'Dilemma 2', if the public would be satisfied with the first part. :)
3. Regardless the previous point: The main concept of realisation of the quests would feature two main influencing factors (so called attached RPG elements): Matter and Spirit. Each action of the player in the game will result in acquiring this or that quantity of Matter points or Spirit points, which will furthermore influence the development of the story.
I'll explain: For example if you have a great Matter potential you can break the door without using a crowbar, but the computer beneath it won't give you further access. So you should seek for the disk. On the other way, if you have acquired high spirit level, you woudn't be able to break the door and would search for the crowbar to open it, but once you get to the computer you would hack into it without any problems etc. (I guess our programmers would hang me when they will write code scripts). :)
4. Of course usage of various special effects (besides the shift of day and night is not for visual effects only, it plays an inevitable part in game process, influencing the quest solutions) and dynamics in different minigames to make the game more attractive.
5. Yeah, the convey of the plot through the eyes of the main character who by the way does not have a name, and I doubt would have any. This is one of the main concepts witch allows the gamer to fully associate himself with the game process and to live in the environment and the surrounding world. In other words: We try to create an effect of presence in the game itself (or maybe somebody will take it as a reality). :) By the way, of course I know it would be easy to take one of the well known protagonists like 'Sherlock Holmes' or 'Batman' and to make a game based on that, but as you may have already found out: We don't seek for easy ways. :)

So we can't expect a hero with a own past and personality?

Sergey: No, the hero has its own history and relations with this world. It just starts to reveal itself through various flashbacks and dialog situations. But all this thing is done via 1st person. The shifts or changes in his further personality would depend on your actions.
The story begins with the arrival of the main character to the postapocalyptic town of Camelot, a desolated community, where such faction as “Reapers”, “Reavers” etc. exist. Though the character is already has its own goal, for he has its own alliagance with the cult (not a willing one, I should say). Whether he would escape from the cult or will pledge it loyality to it depends on the player itself. Besides the situation is worsening by the fact that the hero is given a task to investigate the arrival of an unknown space object, possibly from the Mars.

Regarding this RPG elements: This points are going to be distributed automatically after solving a puzzle in a special way?

Sergey: The RPG points are distributed automatically through quests, dialog answers or even the interaction with world critters. :) [...]

So there will be individual ways to finish the game. Do we can unveil more secrets and backrounds when we try to solve it a bit different another time?

Sergey: Surely, this was only the top of the iceberg. First of all the game process would be different, regarding what action you will choose and to what faction you would belong. The same goes for quests but as it is an adventure and not RPG, there wouldn't be many extra ones, just their realisation and solution would be different. And of course all this facts will influence the game outcome. At least two endings are surely possible.

That means a lot of work for all of you...

Sergey: Here a good planning comes at work: For example we have a game screen with two interactive objects, a crowbar and a lockpick. You can either use the crowbar on the first blocked door and get a MP, but later you wouldn't be able to fight of a very aggressive creature and would have to use the lockpick on the back door to find an alternative way. Or you can pick the lock on the first door and later fight that creature with the crowbar and simply pass the scene.
As you see both items are used, but each in its own way. So it's somewhat an economy. We don't need to invent other special items or additional game screens.
But of course, frankly speaking here we deal with a number of variants of predefined actions which create the illusion of players freedom but I think that it’s more than enough. You can never try to foresee all possible variants, as well you can't create a life simulator. Games offering a total freedom to the gamer simply don't exist, even if they tend to bear such a title, they all are just subtly precalculated.

What about the reality factor? Could you believe, that this in Dilemma could once really happen to us? As for example that we colonize the mars? Do you try to explain anything rational or are there supernatural things too?

Sergey: Well if you ask me, whether I believe in UFO, than I would tell you that everything in this universe is a complex correlation of supernatural and rational things. Science tends to explain evolution but still can't find the answers, so why don't believe in superstitions or alines? The same goes for this game.
You know back than the fantasts wrote about robots nowbody could ever imagine that they would really exist, but now such things as robots and genetic mutants are taken for granted. So who knows, maybe even Mars colonisation would be possible in the future. And yes our game deals with supernatural things too. They would show the main contrast when the player would reach the Mars location.

On the first part of the game, the setting is at the post-apocalyptic scenario of earth, and apparently, we're going to meet pretty much NPC's around it. How could we interact with them?

Sergey: Indeed... Camelot is full of them. So the main way of interacting with them are dialogs, which feature various phrases, starting with abusing and finishing with friendly ones. Of course the NPC would react consequently on this or that phrase. Some of the NPC would be so called "Key"-NPC, providing hero with quests and others would give him advices or chat with him. There even would be so called "Enemy"-NPC, whom the main character, in order to solve this or that quest will have to eliminate, but as we don't plan to make an action game (there is no health bar or med kits) the process of their elimination would be staged with the help of warious items (like dynamite, poison, etc.).

So is it possible in 'Dilemma' to bite the dust? Are there battle actions?

Sergey: No, we have discussed this aspect with many gamers on the forums and decided to exclude this possibility. That's why we devise the situation when the "Enemy"-NPC just can't harm the player.
As for the battle action, yes, weapons in the game are used as any other item in two ways: Whether like weapons, or like simple items. You can whether fight with crowbar, or pistol, or you may brake doors and switch levers or tear ropes, etc. (like in the example above with the agressive creature). But each weapons has its limited number of usage, so called "durability". So a player should think, how to use a weapon in this or that situation. Of course, as you may guess, any usage of violence will end in recieving MP.

Why do you call it 'Dilemma'? What sort of Dilemma do you refering at, with that title?

Sergey: Dilemma is whether we will get published or not.
Joke. :)
No, Dilemma in this game is in everything, cause the choices given to the player are not always the right ones, and also the non-linear plot etc. ...

As it is to be apparent, 'Dilemma' is going to be a pretty serious affair. Do you fully forbear of humour in the game?

Sergey: No, that's not quite true. Of course we don't represent this project as a comedy or some funny story but this doesn't exclude the possibility of implying certain peculiar features in the game, to make the characters of certain NPC more vivid and lifelike. But I think that for the sake of the genre not a clearly observed humour but some irony will be enough.

Could you please give us a little bit of information about the game engine you’re using?

Sergey: Surely, the specification is as follows:

1. Full-3D emulation. Plain background, but geometry from original 3D-scene is used too as depth-buffer and for various lighting effects.
2. Robust "per-pixel lighting".
3. "True shadows" casted on invisible geometry.
4. Various special effects, using "pixel-" and "vertex shaders".
5. "True pathfinding" and "animation blending".
6. Dynamics simulation used in some mini-games.

And you're using a completely new engine?

Sergey: Well, if you mean whether it was developed completely by us, then it's true. But I wouldn't call it completely, new regarding the time factor, for the technologies used in it are not almost up to date - like for example "Pixel Shaders 2.0". But of course this does not exclude the possibility of its modification...

Do you have a first conception of how long the game will last when it's finished?

Sergey: Well, currently the finishing of demo version (consisting of 20 game screens) - with complete solution - takes up to an hour. But the demo does not imply the return of the character to certain locations and consist only of 2 mainquests and 4 subquests (featuring only 2 NPC). So if we take into consideration, that the complete Earth location will imply over a 100 game screens and 20 NPC's, we can anticipate that the covering of this part of the game will take up to 20-30 hours - with the solution of course.

You’re looking for a publisher now, especially at the european market. What about the Russian gaming market? Aren't there any financial support from the state?

Sergey: We’ve contacted one of the publishers and get a certain answer wich was as follows:
That our game has certain pluses like an interesting plot, a certain mixture of adventure and RPG, good content but they also enumerated minuses, which their marketing devision tend to find very abusing. like the the absence of scrolling screens (they motivate that without such a feature the game wouldn't be accepted by the public in 2006), the absence of dynamics in the game play (what did they expect us to develop an arcade) and up to almost ridiculous like the unattractivness of the main character compared to the main character in 'Syberia' (who was a woman by the way).
Besides the attidude of certain publishers makes us think that they simply do not take us seriously or that they are so busy with new groups and projects, that they can't even scrap a piece of their precious and valuable time to write a couple of word in response… Maybe this is the pecularity of market here in Russia or the correlation of offer/demand… or absence of venture capital. Only god knows. But at least one thing is clear: Up until now we can rely only on ourselves.

Do you think that they don't take you seriously because of the fact, that you're a young group of developer?

Sergey: Yes, surely. This is particularly one of the aspects. Besides Kursk is not the capital. :) And more than that the development industry here treats all innovations (like the mixing of the genres) with certain suspicion (that's a somewhat conservative approach). But we also aware of it and understand the responsibility. So this facts mentioned above also prevent us from considering our budget for the development to be high.

Have you thought of visiting the 'E3' or 'Games Convention', to bring your idea to the consumer?

Sergey: This idea sounds really temptating, but at the same time it is really concerned with sufficiant financial problems for us… :)

What our readers are incredibly interested about: What's your target release date?

Sergey: According to the design document, we plan to produce the Earth location within 10-11 months. But that's too approximatly...

Thank you very much for this interview!

Deutsche Version | English Version

geschrieben am 22.07.2005, Philipp Thalmann

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